Annus Orndatra

The knock on the door reverberated in my head
like dynamite. It was a late night, the 20th Anniversary concert
tour of Great Big Sea was spectacular. As the cliché goes, it was the
soundtrack to my life. Now, I was feeling the ill-effects of the night out. My
head never felt like this 20 year ago.

There was only one person who would be knocking
on my door at 7:30 AM on a Sunday morning. My wife turned to me and said, “for
god’s sake go let him in, before he knocks again”.

Wearing nothing more than my housecoat, I went
to the door to let my old friend in…

“Nav, it looks like you chased a fart through a
bag of nails. The evidence clearly suggest that it was a large night”.

With that the old economist passed me over a cup
of coffee. I was thankful, and gestured for my friend to sit down.

“Nav, I am a little disappointed that I was not
invited to your anniversary celebration, especially considering the role I have
played”.

The lift in his eye was a sure sign that Uncle
Gnarley was poking fun. Yet, the fear of forgetting my wedding anniversary
momentarily paralyzed my thoughts.

“Uncle Gnarley I don’t have any idea of what
you are talking about?”

“Well, Nav, it is one year started your blog”.

My old friend surprised me, as the occasion had
completely slipped my mind.

“Nav… to be truthful I was not optimistic,
at first. You are not gifted with the cognitive ability of a Russell Wangersky,
nor the pure talent of a Ray Guy. Yet, you have left a modest contribution to
the political scene in Newfoundland and Labrador”.

Momentarily, I was stunned by what appeared to
be a compliment from the old man.

“But, Nav, you have been blessed with some of
the most fertile material a political pundit could ever cultivate”.

With that, Uncle Gnarley had a point. The blog
was incubated in opposition to the Muskrat Falls project, the largest public
policy initiative in a generation.  The
ever changing reasoning for the project, along with the many communication
errors, has provided a natural subject for well over 70% of the posts from the
year. 

“Nav, your blog was conceived in the
aftermath of the PUB report being released. Initially, I thought that
Dunderdale got the result she deserved. Why should the PUB make a definitive
decision, when their terms of reference were intentionally restricted to such a
narrow focus? They were railroaded”.

 

“A curious choice of words Uncle Gnarley and very fitting to describe the entire Muskrat Falls Project.”

Uncle Gnarley took a sip of the Jamacia Blue, an
indulgence he acquired from an old friend. 

“But now, Nav, I have come to realize that the
PUB decision was the best thing that could have ever happened to Dunderdale,
and the rest of her muskrat litter!”

In testament to the mast head which bears his
name, my old friend had made yet another provocative proclamation.

“Uncle Gnarley, you have me intrigued, why
don’t you explain this theory to me while I make some eggs”.

“Well, Nav, it is simple. The original
project schedule had the DG3 decision and project sanction being completed in
January of 2012. At this point in time the total project cost was $6.2 billion.  When you strip out the escalation,
contingencies and the Maritime Link component the actual base cost was $3.9 billion for the link and the dam.

With the political fallout the sanction was
delayed by about 1 year. Within that time the base estimate had increased by
some $1.6 billion, an increase of some 41%!”

The reference to DG2 had brought back some vivid
memories of 2012, but the old economist had a point.

“Uncle Gnarley, that is very interesting.
All the discussions about Natural Gas, the loan guarantee, wind, and
econometric models really camouflaged the biggest issue. Despite Nalcor’s
assurances during the PUB hearings, that the DG2 numbers were robust, and built
with best industry practices, there was still a 41% increase”.

“Nav… can you imagine if Sanction
happened in April of 2012. Right now Dunderdale would be dealing with all the
fall-out from the Budget, on top of massive over-runs on her pet project. It
would be a perfect storm for defeat in 2015”

Again the old economist impressed me.  “Well, Uncle Gnarley, it seems as if Andy
Wells did a favour to Dunderdale”.  I
laughed, as I was sure that few within the PC Party would share this
opinion. 

However, it was clear that the 40% increase in
the base project cost was an issue which did not get the attention it deserved
in 2012. 

“Uncle Gnarley, it has been 6 months since the
DG3 numbers were released. Has

there been any update on the final cost estimate
for the project?”

“Nav, if you listen to the politicians, you
would think that the DG3 numbers were final, and 16.9 cents per kwhr is the
charge that we will see, on our Bill, in 2017. 
However, the DG3 numbers were an estimate, and the rates are subject to
change.

But, to answer your question, I do not believe
that Government or Nalcor have provided an update on the project forecast spend
since the DG3 numbers last October” 

“Well, Uncle Gnarley, would they have that
information?”

“Nav… it has been many years since I was
involved with any major projects. However, there was generally a monthly or
quarterly report which would be issued to give the general financial position
of the Project when it got underway. The report would include such things as
the invoiced amount, committed costs, accrued costs, and total forecast life of
Project costs. These are updated when any subcontract is awarded, or a change
made to the Project schedule. This information should be readily available
along with schedule status, and key safety indicators”

I was impressed by the industrial knowledge of
the old academic.  But, I remembered that
he had worked in the iron and other mines when he was still a graduate
student. 

“Nav… we are both democrats, with perhaps
an idealistic view of the world. However, I firmly believe that Nalcor and
Government should be providing a quarterly report to the House of Assembly
which summarizes the performance of the project”

“Gnarley, this is a good idea, but it will
never happen”

With that the old man’s lip began to curl, all
good will had evaporated from his face.

“The major finding, of a not so distant
Royal Commission, was that the House of Assembly should be regularly updated on
the total cost of these types of large projects when public money is being
used. This PC Government would not be wise to ignore the words of Mr. Justice
O’Reagan.

Nav.. do not ever forget this is our money. The
salaries at Nalcor, SNC and the Premier’s Office are paid for by you and me.
The consequence of the Government ignoring our basic democratic rights should
be as certain as your hangover the day after a Great Big Sea concert”

My old friend is a democrat and an
idealist.  I could not totally agree that
the consequences of secrecy are so certain for a government in this modern
society.  More likely, public apathy is
the greatest ally of any regressive government.

Whether my writings are either right, or wrong,
I only hope they lead to public engagement. 
For this is the greatest ally of a functional democracy. 
 

******************************************
Editor’s Note: This Post was written by “JM”, the anonymous researcher, writer and
presenter, to the PUB and in local Blogs, on the Muskrat Falls Project. JM has written a
number of Uncle Gnarley pieces, including,  Gnarley’s Theory of Political Devolution, Parts I and II and The Great Revolutionary from the Shore
 and most recently THE QUEST FOR McLEOD’S DEEP THROAT. His latest Paper is entitled: Muskrat Falls Revenue Stream: Fact or Fiction 
– Des Sullivan

Des Sullivan
Des Sullivan
St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada Uncle Gnarley is hosted by Des Sullivan, of St. John's. He is a businessman engaged over three decades in real estate management and development companies and in retail. He is currently a Director of Dorset Investments Limited and Donovan Holdings Limited. During his early career he served as Executive Assistant to Premier's Frank D. Moores (1975-1979) and Brian Peckford (1979-1985). He also served as a Part-Time Board Member on the Canada-Newfoundland Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (C-NLOPB). Uncle Gnarley appears on the masthead representing serious and unambiguous positions on NL politics and public policy. Uncle Gnarley is a fiscal conservative possessing distinctly liberal values and a non-partisan persusasion. Those values and opinions underlie this writer's views on NL's politics, economy and society. Uncle Gnarley publishes Monday mornings and more often when events warrant.

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